When a club like Manchester United, near the top of the league, faces a club in crisis like Queens Park Rangers (QPR), it would be easy for the casual observer to write off the match in expecting a one sided victory of epic proportions. Some fans though, know the dangers of writing off the opposition so readily, given the dangers of complacency as well as the extra fight that a desperate side puts up.
With QPR bringing change to the club in the form of a new manager, the possibility of a bump in performance from Harry Redknapp’s latest club was a very real possibility. The day after Sir Alex Ferguson’s statue was unveiled, and in front of a group of former stars at Old Trafford, United lined up with Anders Lindegaard in goal, with Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand paired up centrally. On the right and left, were Rafael Da Silva and Patrice Evra respectively. In midfield, fans saw Darren Fletcher start alongside Paul Scholes, with Ashley Young on the right out wide, with Welbeck towards the left. Finally, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie were up front.
The first half was reasonably quiet, without United finding themselves frustrated against a resilient QPR side with the occasional chance for the fans to enjoy. Paul Scholes came close after Van Persie collected the ball and took a touch to his left in the box, with the ball worked forward in a scramble, Scholes was there but went down claiming a penalty but to no avail. Van Persie himselg came close, firing a shot into the side netting, sparking premature cheers from some sections of stadium. The same occurred when Young, coming down the right fired at goal wide at the near post. In fact, it was QPR who came closest to breaking the deadlock, when a cross was played into the box, with Mackie getting a head to the ball and heading in, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside, by a tight margin. Despite the ball finding the back of the net on one occasion, the teams went in at half time at 0-0, with United frustrated in their attempts at getting forward.
The second half kicked off and with 7 minutes gone, thoughts of an upset came forth as the visitors worked their way into the box, with a shot coming in from the left, Lindegaard could only palm the ball, as Mackie, this time onside, pounced to give his side a 0-1 lead. Minutes after, looking for a reaction, the changes were made, with Scholes and Young making way for Hernandez and Anderson. United began to apply more pressure and with over an hour played, Welbeck knocked down a corner, which bounced up as Evans beat his marker to head home from close range to bring the game level.
The hosts were turning the screw and less than 5 minutes later, they won a corner down the left. Rooney took it, and Darren Fletcher rose meet the ball in the air and head home to give his side a 2-1 lead in what was an emotional scene. Thoughts of a rout emerged as the substitutes linked up, with Anderson quickly feeding Hernandez, who took one touch and finished smoothly to the right to give his side a quick 3-1 lead. It was not to be as the minutes ticked by. QPR nearly set up a nervy finish, with Rafael heading the ball away on the far post from a corner. So it remained, 3-1, with a slow-starting United again the subject of some scrutiny, and Harry Redknapp witnessing a side he has been charged with trying to help rescue from relegation.
With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Signs of life from QPR
It would be a fair assessment to say that United were reasonably flat up until the substitutions. They started slow and lacked a cutting edge to break down QPR when they got forward. They got close a couple of times in the first half, but in truth, Julio Cesar was rarely troubled on the way to a goalless first period. However, that does not take away from the visitors showing some encouraging signs of their own. With Redknapp sitting in the stands he saw the caretaker management lead a side apparently boosted in confidence, as they lined up well, were resilient when United got forward and were quick on the break, where they looked their most threatening. It may be a long way back for them, but it will be interesting to see what the managerial change will do for them as the season progresses.
2) Introducing Anderson changed the game
Anderson was brought on in a double change that saw Hernandez take place on the field as well. Immediately, the midfield looked as though is had more purpose. He brought greater energy to a side that looked as though it was lacking it at times on Saturday. Of course, it helped that United equalised soon after and capitalised on the pressure. Anderson’s contribution was best seen when, for the third goal, he played a good ball through to Hernandez, who finished quickly and effectively to put the game beyond the visitors. In a start to the game that saw United perform somewhat slowly, Anderson’s substitute appearance must have earned him a start for next week’s fixture.
3) Darren Fletcher on the scoresheet
Darren Fletcher has been used sparingly so far this season, limited mainly to Champion’s League outings as he continues his long road to fitness as he battles chronic illness. Signs were positive when he was given a starting role soon after doing so midweek, lining up with Paul Scholes in midfield. One could not help getting emotional seeing the Scottish midfielder rise up and head home to give his side the lead in the second half. Fletcher himself was delighted, a great moment for him to share with the fans after all his problems. It was a moment that emphasised his fight back to fitness and a signal that he still has something to contribute to the side for the rest of the season. Fans will be hoping that is the case from a player who has been missed for his qualities since his absence.
4) Jonny Evans showing some leadership
United fans have seen Jonny Evans appear on the scoresheet this season, and on this occasion the defender snuck in to knock in Welbeck’s header to bring his side back level. Regardless of United’s defensive frailties at times this season, one could not help but notice Evans seemingly taking up more responsibility himself. He looked fired up as he made his mark in his side’s comeback attempt. It was interesting to see him appear more vocal as a way back was sought after. Although it should not have taken going behind to fire up the side, a point emphasised by Sir Alex’s complete lack of reaction to the equaliser, a sign of what he thought of the performance up until that point.
5) Unveiled statue, United legends and recurring complaints
Mention should be given to the unveiling of the statue of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford on Friday, with guests there to celebrate the achievements of their former manager, a man who has brought in and seen out generations of players in his time in the Manchester United hot seat. One player I took particular interest in reading about was Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The Dutch striker had quite an impact in his time at the club, spearheading many an attack before leaving in controversial circumstances. His admission that Sir Alex was right to get rid of him was notable and a great show of respect from someone who clearly appreciated the time he had under his leadership.
Finally, and this is a point I will no delve in to for long, is that the same issue with slow starts and a midfield lacking energy comes back to rear it’s ugly head. One cannot help but think that against a top four side, such play is one that would not be so easily rectified and is likely to be a concern for Sir Alex at the present time. As well as this, Welbeck on the wing simply does not work, the striker looked out of his comfort zone playing wide and Ashley Young on the right did not appear to fare much better.
With changes expected for the next match it will be interesting to see what effect it will have, particularly if Anderson will maintain some consistency if given a run of starts.
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